I recently took a job in Hong Kong, swapping the grey skies of London for a life-changing experience in the fascinating Asian city. For my big life transition, I treated myself to Emirates (EK) business class and an upstairs berth in one of the carrier’s Airbus A380-800s. Taking a slightly more scenic route meant an overall journey time of roughly 16.5 hours (versus approx. 12 hours on a direct flight from the UK). That also included a 2.5 hour stopover in Dubai (DXB) en route. I decided to experience transiting the city for the first time ever, and also wanted to take advantage of their checked baggage allowance. I was not shipping possessions separately to Hong Kong. However, I mainly wanted to sit upstairs on the big bird!
Emirates business class includes a chauffeur-driven ride from anywhere to your departure airport (within reason – a 70-mile radius). My driver, George, drove me from my home in Canterbury to London Gatwick (LGW) with plenty of time to make the 13:35 flight to Dubai (DXB) and to enjoy some lunch in the EK lounge at the busiest single-runway airport in the world.
We parked outside the dedicated Emirates departure point at LGW and George grabbed a trolley for my bags. I was traveling remarkably light, considering the personal significance of the journey on which I had embarked. My two pieces of checked baggage combined were well under the 40kg limit. I guess these things are relative though. Others would have done the journey with a single backpack, others with few possessions at all. I dropped my hold luggage and made my way through airside for some duty-free items and explore the lounge. I have only ever witnessed a heaving LGW whenever flying. It was a wholly pleasant experience to see it in a peaceful and sparsely populated state on a freezing Wednesday morning in bleak mid-winter.
Emirates Business Lounge in LGW
The EK business lounge was even quieter, almost eerily so in fact. It was the calm before the maelstrom of people living in Hong Kong, and I was not complaining. A few people had seated themselves around the restaurant area, serving both a hot and cold buffet. Other travelers were spread throughout the wider seating blocks. Settling in a corner spot, I tucked into a hearty little pot of Shepherd’s Pie.
I then devoured a cheese plate and a supped a glass of red (St Emilion Grand Cru 2007) with relish. Cheese may feature less often in my diet (import costs of cheese into Hong Kong make it extortionately expensive). During lunch, I overheard a small group discuss the Ashes cricket series between England and Australia. I guessed they were en route, via DXB, to watch the matches down under. It never really occurred to me until then just how strongly EK has positioned itself to operate ultra-long-haul services connecting through its eponymous hub in the Middle East.
I’d recently read that by delivering interlining services through DXB, Emirates has enjoyed sustainable growth for more than 30 years. At 108 million seats flown per annum, the largest long-haul market serving the Middle East is the one connecting it to the Asia Pacific region. Much of that capacity has naturally come from the Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar — aka the ME3). Now whatever your views are on the rise of the ME3 – and I acknowledge that it can be a contentious subject – the sheer scale of growth, capacity, and product development is seriously impressive. With 102 in the fleet, Emirates Airline is the largest operator of the A380 ‘super jumbo’ in the world. Time to take my seat upstairs on board!
My Emirates Business Class Flight: LGW-DXB
My temporary home for the next seven hours would be seat 9K. I proceeded to spread my personal items out with a flourish akin to Rose DeWitt Bukater hanging paintings in her cabin on Titanic (Ok, yeah, she was in first class and it was a movie). The two window storage bins were plentiful and I loved the forward shoe compartment. It literally made me wish that I’d had more shoes with me to store.
It was a champagne welcome. Why not, says I. The atmosphere was relaxed and cabin crew were down to earth in their language and approach. A friend of mine greatly prefers it this way when he travels long-haul to the more formal, sometimes stiffer demeanor of certain business class soft products. I must confess that I like being called ‘Mr. Long’ or ‘sir’ from time to time. But I was excited about this trip and delighted to be here.
We pushed back in a timely fashion and rotating whilst sitting slightly higher up in the air frame felt smoother. That could just have been my imagination though – aerodynamic wishful thinking. Cabin crew took my cream of celeriac soup and slow-roasted chicken lunch order via her iPhone. She then brought me a glass of excellent Pinot Noir (Dundee Hills, Oregon 2014).
The soup was simple, but tasty. I wasn’t really hungry, but it would have been rude not to. The arrival of the slow roast chicken main course was well timed. A glass of Sancerre to accompany it (Les Chasseignes, Loire Valley 2015) was too. As the sun rapidly began to set, I settled down to eat and watch Alien Covenant. I never manage to choose appropriate films to match the meal service on my flights. But it was fun nonetheless.
Dessert was a choice of mango and raspberry torte, chocolate fudge brownie, seasonal fruit, or a cheese board. Admittedly, I’d have tried them all if possessed of the necessary bandwidth. I opted for the torte with a glass of chardonnay (Beringer Private Reserve, Napa Valley 2015). Please forgive the yellow hue (and frankly the shoddy quality of some of the photos in this article), but the mood lighting had kicked in by then.
An hour or so later, I checked out EK’s onboard lounge (a.k.a its Sky Bar) and observed other jet setters meeting ‘at 40,000 ft in an ambient setting.’ Those are EK’s words, not mine – what was mine though was that glass of 18-year-old Glenfiddich taking center stage in the picture! Sky Bar is indeed ambient and a quite awesome feature. I was politely ushered to one of the side benches for safety reasons, but decided to regain my seat and watch Churchill. Thereafter, the Walking Dead saw me through until we touched down in DXB in the middle of the night.
Stopover in Dubai
Most of my article is largely devoted to the LGW-DXB sector. The reason for that is two-fold. Firstly, I slept through most of the DXB-HKG leg and, secondly, the brief interlude in the EK Lounge in DXB was nothing special. I had already been advised that the business lounge at DXB can get uncomfortably busy. And indeed it was packed. It took me ages to find a place to sit down for an hour or so. The plates of baklava and refreshments were certainly copious and divine. However, on reflection, I should probably have wandered around the vast array of shops instead.
Back on-board: DXB-HKG
However, I did snap another shot of the beautiful bronze Arabian horses found in EK lounges all over the world. Before I knew it, I had to scamper to gate B21 to complete the final part of my journey. I found seat 22D and, following an expert tip from a friend and former EK insider, grabbed an extra few mattresses to cocoon myself for the seven-hour trek to HKG.
The EK amenity kit was comprehensively stocked for all my worldly needs. I therefore brushed my teeth and waited for us to get airborne so that I could build a nest and get some proper shut-eye. I also ordered a fulsome breakfast, which would be served an hour before landing. It didn’t take long before I’d curled up on the flat bed and drifted off.
A few hours later, I was roused from slumber by a firm but polite tug on my arm. It was ready me for my full English breakfast and arrival into HKG. We were due to land at 2:30pm local time, but my body clock had pretty much stopped trying to work all that out by then.
The strong coffee and stronger landing into HKG certainly woke me up. I was in no rush to disembark, having plenty of time to make my way into the Asian metropolis.
Was it worth taking the scenic route to Hong Kong instead of a direct flight with, say, Cathay or BA? It does add several hours to the overall travel experience so may not be suitable if you are on a short visit. I wouldn’t wax lyrical about EK’s lounge in DXB either. However, EK’s product is superb. Seamless for an ultra-long-haul ‘Slow Boat to China’ style foray across the world. I’d like to test out Etihad and Qatar on similar routes, but I will certainly enjoy this Emirates experience again.